Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Trash to Art, or From Trash to Elevated Trash

San Francisco prides in itself for being progressive and forward looking.  It also would like to think itself as the vanguard in contemporary art world, particularly in the public art commissioned by the city itself.

In the past years, San Francisco has commissioned some public sculptures, mostly controversial, such as the Cubid's Arrow or the Hearts, littered or adorned the west coast city, depending on one's reaction to them.

However controversial, it was hard to deny the visions of the creators of those pieces and hard to deny their definition as artworks.

Pushing the envelope further, San Francisco's Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) announced on March 10, 2011- that it
approved the concept design of a 41-foot sculpture by acclaimed contemporary artist Tim Hawkinson for the new Transbay Transit Center. The sculpture will be located on the corner of Mission and Fremont streets in downtown San Francisco. Described by the artist as a guardian figure marking the intersection or transition of a journey, the large-scale sculpture will be fabricated from recycled materials, including reinforced concrete pillars, jersey barriers and a street light pole, all reclaimed from the old Transbay Terminal building.

"We are extremely pleased that incredible public art will be a crucial part of this transportation project," said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., Chairman, TJPA Board of Directors.  "Like the forms of transit that will utilize the new Transit Center itself, this public art will connect communities in the Bay Area and California."

The sculpture is the final piece in the Transbay Transit Center's $4.75 million, five-piece public art program established in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) for Phase 1 of the Transit Center Program. This piece will be Hawkinson's largest work to date and his first public art commission in San Francisco. Hawkinson is one of five artists to be selected by a Steering Committee to create large-scale public art works for the new Transit Center. Other artists include: Jenny Holzer, San Franciscan Ned Kahn, James Carpenter, and San Franciscan Julie Chang.
In its press release, it stated that
Rising from the rubble of the old building, the sculpture pays homage to the past while serving as a beacon to the future. It was inspired by historical markers that signified to travelers that they were on the right path. The artist cites as inspiration Inukshuks, stacked stone forms created by Native Americans for navigational purposes, and Greek Telamon or Caryatids, which are figures of support found on the facades of important buildings from the ancient world. According to the artist, "This journey is underscored by the sculpture’s original incarnation as a bus ramp, reminding us that life is composed largely of transitions. Its contrapposto gesture recalls classical sculpture, but its raw and immediate form speaks of the primitive and archetypal."

What I see from this "concept" is that it values social message more, far more, than artistic value.  Art without message is an empty shell; but art for message's sake is propaganda.  Besides, this sketch is ugly without a purpose.  Its concept is very lazy and cheap as well.  As the so-called classical pose, it reminded me in turns of Black Panther, ET, or Stalin.  Does an all-powering, threatening figure represent the best spirit of San Francisco?  

Image source: San Francisco Art Commission

Commissioned public art, usually have political or religious messages but they don't have to be so mind-bogglingly crude and ugly. 

In 1401, a competition was announced by the Arte di Calimala (Cloth Importers Guild) to design doors which would eventually be placed on the north side of the baptistry. Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition and his creation had been known as the "Gates of Paradise":

Image Source: Wikipedia

It will be hard pressed to image that several hundreds years later, people would continue to flock to San Francisco Transbay Terminal to admire this concept of Tim Hawkinson.

San Francisco seeks to create a heart-warming story of "From Trash to Art", but it is quite likely to be "From Trash to Elevated Trash".

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